Robin you have been Co-founder and CEO of Inuka for 5 years now. What made you decide to adopt a Co-CEO leadership model?
The trigger was me becoming a first-time mother and wanting quality time with my son and family while my ‘first baby’ Inuka is growing fast. It just wasn’t possible for me to give everything the presence and attention I wanted to give it.
But the decision was made for a different reason. It allowed us to bring on board a heavyweight with the experience, skills and passion for significant impact that would be hard to get otherwise. We’ve only been working together for a month, but already now I wish I had thought of this construction earlier, it’s such a powerful way to run a complex business that needs many different skill and knowledge sets and get Inuka to the next level.
Inuka is in the business of employee well-being. How does this management appointment fit in with that?
I think it shows Inuka is on the frontlines of well-being innovation, that we walk the talk, and be the change we want to be. And that employee well-being isn’t at the expense of business results, but an enabler. Because well-being is such a priority and open discussion at Inuka, we didn’t have to wait until I was burned out to make a big change, but used it as an opportunity to get someone on board we anyhow would have loved to have on board.
I hope it sets an example on how to facilitate women in senior leadership positions. As for me it allows be to be 100% the person I want to be: a mother who spends quality time with her family, but also a driven, passionate CEO that is leading a company with big ambitions.
Anoushka, you have a strong track record in the corporate world, what brings you to Inuka?
Good question. I have recently graduated from a Research MSc in Global Health with the VU, where I specialised in mental health. My final thesis project was actually with Inuka – investigating how to measure the effectiveness of mental health interventions in the workplace. Following graduation, I had just started to consider which opportunities to follow as next steps. I knew the essential elements would include: Being able to make a meaningful impact; Drawing together and making use of my two worlds of expertise – my deep HR leadership and transformation background, as well as my more recent global (and mental) health research capabilities; Working with awesome and inspiring people; And a stretch role where I can grow and flourish. The role of Co-CEO of Inuka combines all of these elements in spades.
During an informal discussion with Robin, she raised the possibility of me acting as Co-CEO alongside her and whether I would be interested. It was more of a top of the head thought and I think both of us were surprised by the idea, but the more we considered it and discussed it together, the more it made total sense. I am essentially be a peer to Inuka’s client leads (CHROs & (HR) Directors) and can therefore deeply understand the challenges and solutions around Well-being from the client perspective. On top of this I could also continue driving the thought leadership that we have been working on as an output of my research. Furthermore, I was already an experienced coach and trained in the Inuka method so I had a deep understanding of and belief in the effectiveness of the Inuka coaching method. I also knew most of the Inuka team, so I could really hit the ground running and we both truly believed that I could add tangible value to Inuka, and Inuka’s clients.
And, what will you bring to Inuka?
I bring with me over twenty years of experience in multinationals, both from the perspective of a transformation consultant via Accenture and PWC, and also from the perspective of strategic HR leadership roles within multi-nationals. Recent roles have included Global Head of Strategy for HR at Philips, and Global HR Manager at War Child. This gives me both a deep and broad knowledge and capabilities related to driving meaningful people transformation.
After three years of in-depth studying, I have a good handle on research related to mental health and specifically research in mental well-being in the workplace. It’s of critical importance that we provide our clients with correct, strategic guidance, and my background deepens Inuka’s ability to have these strategic well-being conversations, and deliver a meaningful sound boarding, content and solutions for leaders.
I am very excited to see Anoushka join the INUKA team in a co-leading role with Robin. Anoushka’s skills, expertise and character are quite complimentary to Robin and together they make a great team. With her two decades of experience working in large corporates and NGO’s in strategic and HR roles, her recent graduation in … at the VU, she has the perfect profile to bring Inuka in the next phase of growth and expansion.
In my experience, co-leadership requires professionals who know each other strengths, are able to set ego’s aside for the common goal and are excellent communicators. I see this combination in Robin and Anoushka and am very confident they will be successful together.
Jamy Goewie – Boardmember and Investor, Inuka
What will the market experience from this new leadership? Will there be major changes?
Yes, for sure. When we started, we were a provider of top-quality online coaching, and over the past years we have been shifting to become the prevention partner for companies that aim to care for their people better. With a seasoned strategic HR executive with deep employee mental health and well–being expertise as Co-CEO of Inuka, we aim to be(come) the leading strategic well-being partner for all our existing and prospective customers. So, we‘re not just the provider and doing the execution, but also supporting the strategic thinking, planning, and embedding real change management into the organisation to support successful outcomes. In the spirit of the inuka method: with short, powerful steps, making sure this service is affordable for all types of organisations.
What will the co-leadership look like? How do you envisage the synergy?
As a capability set, Robin and I seem to complement each other so well. Robin is definitely the big world-changing ideas lady, who is super-inspiring and can make a full room light up to realise the power of what they can achieve together. I’m great at putting structure around those big hairy audacious goals, and delivering on the ambition. We notice that our values are hugely important to use, and are also aligned – focusing on making a real and positive impact on the world.
I agree, I already had a management team that was very complimentary to my skills to make it work well, but I think with the Co-CEO construction it becomes much easier to implement new ideas and big moves because I can bounce off and structure ideas first with Anoushka before dropping my many big ideas bombs in management or team meetings.
How will this work in practice? Any tips or insights for other aspiring co-CEOs?
It’s been only 1 month, so ask me this again in a year or so, but so far, it’s been incredibly smooth and easy, I’ve been surprised. Inuka has been my baby for over 5 years now, and I thought my ego would be rebelling more due to sharing the decision making. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s actually been leading to richer decisions and outcomes so far.
I think there are a couple of learnings for aspiring Co-CEOs here. First, it’s important to talk to multiple people who have been in a role like this, so common pitfalls can be avoided. Second, it makes it much easier if you hire based on shared values. Because, if you match on underlying values, then it’s very easy to work together since you’re united by a common purpose and so always find your way to the right solution and agreement. Third, I heard it is crucial to divide responsibilities very clearly so the team knows to whom to go to. However, we decided not to immediately divide responsibilities in a strict manner, but allow a degree of evolution within a set time, to achieve an effective task division. Anoushka has started with some key projects, and coaching of our different teams. From here it actually becomes increasingly natural to divide the responsibilities. So only per January 1st we will have our formal role division in place. And then it’s important to always have someone who is responsible, and someone to review and sign off.
How is it for the team to work with the Co-CEO construction? I can imagine such an uncommon construction after years of the same CEO might cause some tensions?
So far, so good! I think a crucial reason for it going smoothly so far is due to the capabilities of the people in our teams, and the fact that we are so focussed on well–being and have a clear purpose. The team felt safe enough to dare to ask the difficult questions right away, and recognised the Co-CEO construct as an opportunity to improve their work and impact.
I think that‘s in general also why well–being is so important for business success: If people feel safe enough to ask the difficult questions, and feel well enough to take significant changes in their stride, then the entire organisation becomes more agile and effective.
I think a very important reason why the Co-CEO construct works so effectively so far is because of the new Co-CEO herself. I’ve been incredibly impressed by how she manages to quickly connect with everyone, ask the right questions, steps in and takes hold of the boat when needed, and in generally is just incredibly fast in the uptake of all the information she gets poured over her. I’m excited to see where Inuka will go with Anoushka on board!
Inuka Coaching is on a roll, with your coaching method training being ICF certified, and a Bcorp certification to demonstrate the focus on social impact. What are your ambitions?
Our ambition is two-fold, one is to help transform the market of employee well-being, the other is very entrepreneur-like, and runs the risk of sounding megalomaniac – to support transformation of capitalist thinking.
First, the employee well-being market is developing rapidly. We aim to help shape this by incorporating the insights from research and making well-being programs outcomes measurable, and the business case data-driven. To do so, Inuka aims to be the leading strategic well-being partner for organisations that aim to care better for their employees.
Second, neo-liberal capitalism needs to fundamentally change if we are to thrive as a human species. In the way we organise ourselves we also aim to be an inspiration for how things can be done differently. For example, when we started a quarter of our company was immediately put into a foundation to ensure access to the most vulnerable for whom a business model for mental health prevention support does not exist. Or that we are a fully remote company, a certified BCorp, and our most recent move, to run the company with a Co-CEO structure in order to better facilitate female leadership and life balance.
Any closing comments?
We’re excited for the coming period and the impact we can make together. We’ll share our learnings as we go along, and do feel welcome to connect directly if our story or Inuka’s offering resonates with you.
And to end on a practical note with a well-being-tip: did you notice the dog’s nose in the corner of the picture? It’s Anoushka’s dog who joins us when we work together from an office. Highly recommended for employee well–being: to allow dogs in the workplace!
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